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What vs Why
I ask what, they tell me why
I had a guy doing work on our house who did a bad job on one part, and when I pointed it out, he explained why he’d done a bad job. And I was like, I don’t care why you sucked, I just want to know that you’re going to fix it. The same holds true for the sixth graders. I’m not interested in all the reasons why you didn’t do the homework, I’m grading you based on that you did or didn’t do it.
Our school doesn’t assign much homework, even if parents wish we did. Research shows there’s limited value beyond math practice and reading. So my homework has long been to read, two hours a week, at least 15 books in a year. If we’re reading together, there might be deadlines — finish chapter 7 by Tuesday, etc. And I’m the stickler teacher with little tolerance for kids who not doing assignments. As a kid, I’d work hard to get things done on time, then watch my putative rival get an extension and eventually get a better grade. Is there no value to respecting a deadline? Work is due when it’s due.
Among the (admittedly few) kids who miss homework, some cop to it, more offer a buffet of excuses. I had a really busy day and my aunt visited and my baseball game went late and the president of Switzerland stopped by and-- I’m asking you what, and you’re telling me why. You didn’t use the class time I gave you, you had three days to read, you knew you had baseball on day 3, you had the time but you left it for the end and ran out of time. They don’t admit this, they supply the reasons they know should supersede all. Of course baseball practice takes precedence over schoolwork, you do my homework when you have time.
Accepting responsibility is not a natural strong suit for sixth graders. Legitimate excuses do exist, and context matters. But too often it’s about deflecting responsibility, and I view answering why when I ask what as changing the subject. Don’t explain why you didn’t do it, just admit it, catch up, and do it right next time. We all make mistakes, learn from it and move on.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Vee to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
This may be an actual transcript of a conversation I had repeatedly at the office job that convinced me I shouldn’t have an office job any more. I might have even developed the theory from this. And like the Onion, I just accepted my role and took a guess. Also, Vee has a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
A bunch of new music percolating, or at least new to me. I’ll shout out the 2015 Steep Leans album, Grips on Heat. Catchy indie rock, guitar-forward, semi-repetitive, somewhat noisy Yo La Tengo vibes (my favorite flavor of YLT). They apparently have a 2023 EP, but it seems they’ve evolved into something I’m not as into, so I’ll stick by my slightly more aged pick.
My Back Pages
As teased last week, my contribution to a middle school musical from yesteryear. The play was vignettes about growing up and my contribution was “The Talk,” from 2016. The dad enters and does some corny dad stuff with Little Timmy, a character named after the hero of one of that year’s sixth grader’s writing assignments. I was like, Look, I got Little Timmy in the school play! An in-joke for 20 kids.
MR. ANDERSON: But look at you now. Growing up, getting all big.
TIMMY: I eat a lot of protein.
MR. ANDERSON: Big Timmy! Before you know it, you’ll be a man.
TIMMY: I’ve got a ways to go.
MR. ANDERSON: Oh, you do. And… (suddenly changes; this is the beginning of “The Talk”) you don’t. You know, Timmy, you’re getting older. You’re getting bigger. Things are… starting to change.
This was the crux of sketch: the kid realizes he’s about to get “The Talk” and tries to bail out. I had them cast this tiny, hilarious Indian kid as Little Timmy, and he nailed it.
TIMMY: (slowly realizing) Holy guacamole. Dad… Dad, you can’t do this.
MR. ANDERSON: Timmy, we all come to the time in our lives…
TIMMY: Dad, no! Don’t do this! Don’t make me have (big air quotes) “The Talk.”
MR. ANDERSON: You see, there are birds and there are bees…
TIMMY: NO!!! Please, Dad, not tonight! Dr. Who is on tonight, I don’t want to get distracted.
I’m guessing I knew kids at that time who were into Dr. Who. Always pandering to the Brits. Timmy keeps ushering his dad out.
TIMMY: It was real, it was fun, it was real fun. But… smell ya later!
MR. ANDERSON: (more impatient) Timmy…
TIMMY: Dad, please go away!
MR. ANDERSON: Timmy, we need to talk about your armpits!
(An awkward pause)
MR. ANDERSON: You’re going to start to see hair in your armpits. But that’s okay!
If I remember correctly, these armpits jokes went over big. The mom enters and Timmy begs her for help.
MRS. A: (to Mr. Anderson) Bert, is it true that you’re trying to kill little Timmy?
MR. ANDERSON: I am not, Doris.
TIMMY: Okay, fine, he’s not trying to kill me. But he wants to have (big air quotes) “The Talk” with me. Tonight!
MRS. A: Oh, Timmy. You don’t feel comfortable having “The Talk” with your dad?
MR. ANDERSON: We’ll have fun!
TIMMY: Talking about my armpits?
MR. ANDERSON: It begins with the armpits, then it… travels.
Really all the armpit jokes did well. Maybe I should increase the armpit content on this substack.
TIMMY: Can’t I just watch something on Youtube?
MRS. A: Of course not! Oh Timmy, would you rather have “The Talk” with me?
TIMMY: No no no!
MR. ANDERSON: Do you want to have “The Talk” with both of us together?
TIMMY: Are you from outer space?
MRS. A: Maybe Grandpa?
MR. ANDERSON: A teacher?
MRS. A: What if we got that guy from the library?
TIMMY: (appalled) Mr. Dadeekian?
Getting Little Timmy into the school play was a reference 20 kids would get, but shouting out my wife’s high school Russian teacher? A far more limited audience, my whole life is one constant in-joke with the wife. I think it’s actually spelled Dadekian, but I wanted to make sure it got pronounced in the funniest way possible, and that’s a good name. I chose it not just to amuse the wife, but because it’s a great name for this bit. I feel like this joke did OK with the crowd, but I thought it killed.
MR. ANDERSON: Timmy, I am your father. This is your destiny. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.
TIMMY: Why is this happening to me?!
I love dropping Star Wars references because it’s one of the rare things they like that I’m a light expert in. I hope the drama teacher cut the scene here because the rest is fairly superfluous. But this was certainly my middle school dramatic high water mark, truly a bright and shining armpit in a sea of elbows. Maybe I need to workshop my armpit material.
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